The Panda Restaurant Group, parent company of Panda Inn, Panda Express, and Hibachi-San, was founded by Andrew Cherng and Peggy Cherng and Andrew's Father, Master Chef Ming Tsai Cherng. Andrew Cherng and his Father are from the Yangzhou region of China's Jiangsu province, while Peggy was born in Burma and raised in Hong Kong. Both Andrew and Peggy Cherng are alumni of Baker University in Baldwin City, Kansas (where they first met). Peggy Cherng received her B.S. degree in applied mathematics from Oregon State University in 1971, and her M.S. in Computer Science and Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Missouri-Columbia. Andrew Cherng also received his M.S. in Mathematics from the University of Missouri.
In 1973, when Andrew's parents moved to the United States, Andrew went into Business with his Father and opened their first Panda Inn restaurant in Pasadena, California. At the beginning, Business was lacking to the degree that Andrew had to offer special deals and freebies so that customers would dine at Panda Inn. In 1982, Peggy joined Andrew in the restaurant Business. While operating Panda Inn, Andrew became acquainted with then-UCLA head football coach Terry Donahue, as well as Terry's brother Dan, who happened to be in the real estate Business. It was because of this connection that in 1983, Donahue Schriber Real Estate, the manager of the Glendale Galleria, invited the Cherngs to develop a fast-food version of Panda Inn for the Galleria's food court, and Panda Express was launched that October. A second location was opened two years later at the Westside Pavilion in 1985. The chain has steadily expanded across the United States since then. Chef Andy Kao claims to have developed the original Chinese-American orange chicken recipe at a Panda Express in Hawaii in 1987.
At first, Panda Express restaurants were found solely in food courts in major shopping malls. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Cherngs began experimenting with supermarket-based branches, through a deal with Vons, and then stand-alone restaurant locations. In 1997, the company opened its first stand-alone, drive-through restaurant, in Hesperia, California. Today less than 2% of its restaurants are in malls.
In 2000, they launched Panda Cares to give back to the community. They provide funding, food and volunteer services to children in need and disaster relief efforts.
In 2005, Panda Express began to open units in food courts on college campus, some of which participate in the residential student meal plans.
In 2008, the Cherngs were the recipients of the City of Angels Award, given by the LAX Coastal Area Chamber of Commerce, for their contributions to the greater Los Angeles area.
On November 23, 2009, it was announced that Panda Express had selected Trusonic to provide Asian themed background music to its store locations.
In October 2013, the first Panda Express located in Canada opened its doors on Hunt Club Road in Nepean, Ontario. The first location in Calgary was opened in October 2016.
On May 26, 2014, it was reported by Arabian Business news that Panda Express would be opening a restaurant in the United Arab Emirates. The first Panda Express restaurant in the Middle East was open in Dubai in November 2014.
Panda Express previously had eight locations in Japan that were operated under a franchise agreement that later lapsed. In November 2016, the company returned to the country by opening a new location in Kawasaki. This new location is operated as part of a joint partnership with Ippudo.
In December 2017, Panda Express had opened the chain's 2,000th location, which is located in New York City near Columbia University.